Herculean task for cycling star Sarah Lee Wai-sze
Mainland competition will be of highest order as Olympic star spearheads HK challenge
Hong Kong cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze faces a Herculean task when she begins her campaign in the track events at the National Games in Shenyang today.
The London Olympic Games bronze medallist will take part in the individual sprint and keirin, events in which mainland riders are among the world's best.
"Among Sarah's rivals are Olympic medallists, a world record holder and regular World Cup winners," Hong Kong coach Shen Jinkang said. "No one can be certain of a medal, not even Sarah.
"In fact, I would be happy if she can reach the semi-finals in the sprint and the final of the keirin."
Guo Shuang and her Jilin province teammate Gong Jinjie won a silver medal in the women's team sprint at the London Games, while Guo also clinched a bronze medal in the individual sprint. In the keirin, where Lee finished with a bronze, Guo was the silver medallist.
Zhong Tianshi. of Shanghai, meanwhile, broke Miriam Welte's 500-metre time trial world record in January. The event is a qualifier for the individual sprint.
Shen, though, is confident Lee can hold her own against her world-class rivals.
"She is a natural fighter and always wants to challenge stronger riders," he said. "Four years ago at the National Games in Shandong, she was nowhere near to being a top-class track rider, but now she is definitely up there with the best."
"We won't put too much pressure on her. Even if she loses in Shenyang, it is not the end of the world as her ultimate target is the 2016 Olympic Games. She will definitely learn a lot from the competition here."
The Hong Kong men's pursuit team, which won a silver medal at the Asian Games in Guangzhou three years ago, will also start in the velodrome today, but their chances are not too promising, according to Shen.
"We were second at the Asian Games and have finished regularly in the top three at the Asian championships, but it does not mean we are the best team in the region," Shen said.
"Team pursuit is also a focus of track cycling on the mainland and there are at least six teams of similar or even higher standard than Hong Kong.
"Our best time is around four minutes and seven seconds, but the national record on the mainland is five seconds faster. There are three provincial teams who can finish the 4km race within four minutes and five seconds and we need to be at our very best if we want to beat these rivals."
Another worry, said Shen, was that two members of the team were in other events.
The promising Cheung King-lok will compete in the individual time trial, an event he won at the China national championships this year, while Kwok Ho-ting will also take part in the omnium and road race.
"A medal in the team pursuit may be out of our reach this time, but we can make up for that at the Asian Games next year because China can only send one team to that event," Shen said.